I AM a retired headmaster of a Catholic comprehensive school which had a sixth form of over 200 pupils. I was very much in favour of Catholic comprehensive schools developing their own sixth forms, and very enthusiastic, as were my teachers, in offering as many subjects as possible at 'A' level, within the limits of teacher availability and accommodation.
I was influenced by the thought that leadership qualities would be developed in the senior pupils in a Catholic atmosphere and the making of future leaders for the Catholic community. These senior pupils would help with the discipline of the school by acting as prefects and heads of houses.
Fut [hermetic, having 'A' level pupils in a school attracts specialist teachers of high calibre who enjoy teaching their subjects to 'A' level, and whose influence is felt throughout the school.
A further consideration was that the few extra years in a Catholic atmosphere would prepare them more thoroughly for entry to tertiary education, or work.
My views have radically changed and now the time is at hand to have an agonising reappraisal of the benefit of a sixth form to its pupils and community in a 12-18 comprehensive high school.
The halcyon days for our planners of secondary schools of the 1960s and 1970s are long past. The Catholic authorities did well. Government was committed to parity of esteem among the schools, and was anxious to demonstrate that there was equal opportunity for all pupils.
There was lavish spending, producing schools splendidly furnished and well equipped. Despite all efforts the availability of places in Catholic schools never quite satisfied the demand, and little thought was given to long-term planning.
A drop in population was not even a dream in those precontraception days!
Now we have the traumatic change: school rolls are dropping, fewer births and fewer baptisms are noticeable. The number of lapses from Catholicism is significant, showing a cynicism towards religion. Closures of schools have become as critical as the building of new ones in the earlier decades. The Catholic authorities are forced to consider amalgamation of schools, as well as restructuring.
Let us examine a case for allowing our pupils over 16 years of age to continue their education at sixth form colleges. Some observations may be of help in the analysis of the problems involved.
It will be necessary to have surveys of anticipated numbers of senior Catholic pupils expected to continue their. education after 16 years over the next 20 to 30 years: possibly Anglican pupils might also be included now that we appear to be on the threshold of some form of unity with other Christian denominations.
A further examination of the most suitable age for transfer to secondary education would be necessary. At present we have 11 plus, 12 plus and 13 plus transfers.
An assessment of the possible advantages of the sixth form college, especially in relation to maturity of pupils over 16 years, of age; efficient use of highly qualified, well paid staff, capable of teaching to 'A' and scholarship level; availability of courses for those not capable of 'A' level, but who wish to remain at school for further study; mature pupils (over 18) who wish to follow nonacademic, practical, courses.
Consideration should also be given to the possibility of accepting 16 plus pupils from the private sector whose parents, perhaps for financial reasons, would welcome the opportunity of this type of college as opposed to the 11-18 comprehensive, whose image is often tarnished in their minds.
The proximity of the feeder schools, even across borough boundaries, will need examination. The size of the college is of the utmost importance.
Our new college should have a three session day—not the present 9 am to 4 pm school day. It will be best organised on further education college lines, which would enable time-tables to be produced with less constraint on class times and specialist rooms.
There would be the greatest flexibility to offer a large range of subjects within the faculties of science, mathematics, arts subjects, languages, design and technology, home craft, commerce and religious studies, with an introduction to the elements of philosophy and theology.
Inculcating leadership qualities is one of the great advantages.
On reflection, however, 1 feel that this is far outweighed by these pupils being in a more adult society in a sixth form college. My own experience of sixth formers is that they are more mature, more advanced intellectually than students were in my time at University: the same can be said of those who go straight into work from secondary schools.
The staffing of a sixth form college introduces a different emphasis. These lecturers or teachers will be subject centred not child centred. The business of discipline will not be an enforced conditioning, but a developing of personal attitudes towards life—a self discipline.
Highly qualified staff will be attracted to this environment. The relationship between students and staff will be on a basis of trust and respect evolving from effort and achievement.
The most important aspect of the advantages of Catholic sixth form colleges lies in a formal teaching of religion. Proper, suitable courses would be arranged. They would be trained to examine the concepts of the Catholic faith, and encouraged to question and seek intelligent answers.
Alas, there is little advanced Leaching of the philosophy and theology of the Catholic religion in our schools. They seldom get beyond the "penny catechism" fund of knowledge. It is almost impossible to get enthusiastic teachers of religious education. This is especially so in the senior classes of our comprehensive schools (16. Plus). How many Catholic comprehensive high schools can state that RE is a compulsory subject at sixth form level?
I feel that in the sixth form college the philosophy and theology of Christianity will find its rightful place. It should attract highly qualified men and women in this discipline. Perhaps we will produce a well informed body of Catholic young people who will adhere to their faith and lead the less fortunate to accept their religion.
The 21st century is at hand. Let us prepare to give our young adults the tools they need to enjoy their life to the full. Sixth form colleges could be a good beginning.